Gin Blossoms

Talking Mixed Reality with Robin Wilson
by Al Brzostowski
May 2018

Robin Wilson - photo by TriciaStarr--TStarr Photography

Robin Wilson
photo by TriciaStarr--TStarr Photography

The band’s fusion musically spans so many genres it’s hard to classify them. In 2017 the band went back into the studio recording a new album, Mixed Reality. Mixed Reality is scheduled for release on Cleopatra Records on June 15, 2018.

Fans got a chance to taste of what’s to come at BratFest this today on the Grand Stage. Right before the show, Robin had a moment to explain what’s coming up for the Gin Blossoms, and his charity work.

MI: You have a new release coming out in June, Mixed reality. Elaborate?
RW: We’re psyched to have made a record with Don Dixon and Mitch Easter for those who don’t know, they produce together they produce the first three REM records and Don went on to produce Marshall Crenshaw of The Smithereens, two of my favorite acts and some of my favorite albums of all time. So it’s a real full circle accomplishment for us to be here, in the future, and make a record with those guys.

Those are the records I was listening to when I was 20 years old, and dreaming about starting a band. To be a veteran, with a catalog of music and work with a guy like Don on this was very, very, cool. Mitch was the engineer on the sessions. We did it at his studio, Fidelitorium Recordings, in Kernersville, North Carolina, just a fantastic studio, and we had a fabulous experience. It was hard work. Making a record, you know, 10 hours a day, at the studio, is kinda like doing math or taking the bar exam for 10 hours. It really takes intense concentration. But, we really stepped up. I think we delivered our best record in 25 years.

MI:What does the title of your new album mean to you?
RW: Well, technically I got it from Wired Magazine. They have a section called Jargon and every month, Wired Magazine spells out new technical terms and explains what they are and so I had read the term “mixed reality”; it refers to the mixing of both virtual reality and real environments. So like we could be sitting here we put on our goggles on, and a giraffe sticks its head through the door. I wanted to see the objects virtual objects interact with the real environment. But for me, you know, I get that term, but it also spoke to me about how the record was put together, and how me and my bandmates work together, and coming together to do something as a unit.

MI: Are you going vinyl with Mixed reality?
RW: Yeah it’s going to take a while because every vinyl pressing plant in the country is booked up so we should have vinyl in like September or October or something.

MI: FROM 1992 “HEY JEALOUSY” - OVER 13 MILLION VIEWS. What is on the horizon in video?
RW: Yeah I’m actually producing a whole slew of videos right now. We’re going to do some live looking videos that the audio is going to be from the record, but it’ll be live footage and then I’m doing a few different conceptual videos as well. I’m doing an animated lyric video also, then in the fall, I’m going hike with this cancer charity, that we will talk about again in a little bit. Love Hope Strength Foundation. So, I’m going to shoot a video while I’m hiking in the Grand Canyon, and just so you know, these will be on our YouTube page, and hopefully we can get them signed up with some video streaming services. I go to LA Fitness, and they’re constantly playing videos. They’re so, you know damn well I want to be on at LA Fitness, or at least once in a while. I pay a hundred bucks a month for me or whatever and at the least they can do is play my video. (Laughs)

Just yesterday was working on this. I got a crew and I cast the video for the first single. And I’m really excited about it. It’s going to be a cool little conceptual video where I got this 10 year old girl who’s going to be riding a skateboard, and singing my song. She’s a really good skateboarder, so we’re going to film her, in parks and on ramps, and doing all this and shit like that, while she’s singing the song. You know, it’s an idea I’ve had for a while and I’m just now being able to actualize it. Just yesterday, I haven’t told them you’re definitely in, because I need a few more logistics fulfilled, but I’m basically ready to say, you’ve got the part. It’s been hard to be the crew. Everybody there just waiting for me to call him back and I just need to know for certain, dates and stuff like that and short of those kinds of details.

MI: On the road again, or has it never stopped?
RW: Today. This is day one of the of the bus tour. We’ve been playing weekends for most of the spring but this Begins the summer madness. Summertime, we are always touring, and we usually have a bus for about 4 weeks. But this summer we’re going to be on a bus for about 8 weeks total, and then it picks up again in the fall. We’re out starting on Thursday, playing with Vertical Horizon and tonic for like 40 shows, and so we’re going to do a bunch with them. Then take a couple weeks off, and then we do it another month, take a couple weeks off and then we go back out in September again with them. So we’ll typically play anywhere between 80 and 100 shows a year. And now that we have a record, there’s going to be a lot more things for me to do. Like tonight, this for example, this interview, making the videos tomorrow morning. I’m going to be on morning TV in Grand Rapids Michigan so I’m making myself available to do as much press as possible the record is really important to me and I want to get the word out.

It’s really is fantastic for all those people who say over and over, “nobody makes records like they used to”, to say, we just did. We made it through the kind of a record that people made in the 80s in the 90s and we did it the way bands recorded in the 80s and the 90s. I think it’ll speak to those people and, first of all I never agree with people who say oh nobody’s making good music anymore. Well anyone who says that just isn’t looking hard enough. It may not be on the radio trends, come and go on Spotify, and what not but, what I learned working at record stores throughout the 80s is that no matter what kind of music do you like, no matter what obscure genre, someone’s out there doing it as good as it’s ever been done. So whether it be, you know, death metal, or lesbian Bluegrass, or whatever it is, someone is out there making the best lesbian Bluegrass record you know that’s available.

It’s all good stuff. I’m at my best when I’m out here on a bu.s I got my bike and my skateboard. I exercise every day, and I just eat and sleep and exercise, and eat and sleep and exercise for four hours a day. I drink, smoke pot, and rock out, and then at 1 in the morning, I just shut it down. And it all starts up again the next day. For me, it’s like Groundhog Day out here on the bus. I live near identical days, nearly identical schedules, and it’ll be that way for me for the next you know, 60 shows. Today is a little bit unusual, because it’s the first day on the bus. I have to stay on the bus, so you I’ve got to unpack all my shit. I got to make sure everything got here from Nashville, and plus we’re going on like 4:30 today so that’s an unusual Showtime, so you know I’m just going to follow my routine as best I can every day.

MI: Anything from Mixed Reality live? What can we expect from the album on stage?
RW: Sure, you’re going to hear a butt load of stuff for Mixed Reality. Right now we’re doing six new Tunes in the set, and then we got a few more on the back burner that were going to be dragging out at some point.

MI: You’ve performed everywhere. What location was your most memorable?
RW: OK. I’m going to go with Oshkosh Wisconsin.It was always one of my favorites in my skating phase several years ago, what I would do is, I would call skate shops in the town’s we were going to go to, and I would say, “hey can someone from your shop take me skating.  I’ll get them tickets to the show”. So I have befriend these guys at the shop they’re called Streets of Fire and I’ve been skating with the crew from Oshkosh a few times and the Indianapolis. This was another one of my favorite skate spot. I kind of connected accidentally with the skate crew from Indianapolis these are the most hardcore skaters I ever I ever skated with and they were a lot of fun stuff.

As far as to perform,  we have we have a lot of joints that we play regularly, or throughout the year, Annapolis Maryland to Huntington New York, on Long Island. That’s near where I live. I live on Long Island now. I like to be in the big cities that have water, like Pittsburgh and Portland. San Francisco. I love all those places. I don’t have any one favorite to perform, but I enjoyed the big cities. I like places where I can ride my bike, and fine restaurants and stuff like that.

MI: Looking to the future of Gin Blossoms, what’s coming?
RW: Like REO Speedwagon and before us, you know, we’re just going to keep going as long as we can and eventually will be in our 60s, we’re not that far off. We’re all in our 50s now, and so we’re at the beginning of our third act as a band and in a lot of ways stronger than ever, so you know that our prospects are good and we survive with our credibility intact. That’s a good thing that allows us to book good shows and make good money, and we’re getting more power over the things that we choose to do. We’re not having to just accept everything because we need to make a living. We’re being able to be a little bit more choosy and to produce the tours ourselves, like this summer. Over the way we’re doing it with vertical and tonic and so you know exactly we’re just going to keep going and I want to make another record before long

It was too long in between our last two records and so I still have a big batch of songs that didn’t make it on to this one. So I’m ready to go. So I’m going to be lobbying my bandmates to record again in 2019, and then we will have a record out in 2020.  We might make a live record this summer too.

MI: Any music you pick up on that you’re listening to that blows you away?
RW: My favorite groups seem to be coming from overseas, so I really love the stripes. They’re still just kids like 21 years old. Fantastic album. So much growth on their first album. It was great, but the second one, excellent. I think my favorite modern band is the darkness. Several months ago or sometime in the last several months, they released their fifth album and they’re just so solid, so consistent, and just so fucking awesome. I just love the darkness.

MI: What are your thoughts about the industry as it stands today?
RW: It’s hard to know hard to predict how many records you can sell any more. I don’t know what to say about that. I don’t know what it’s going to be like trying to get a new record on the radio. It’s just that we’re not with a major label that has a radio staff and every region around the country. We’re hiring publicists and stuff. So I just don’t know what it’s going to be like in terms of breaking the record and let you know people just don’t buy records the way they used to. So I really have no way to predict. I’m going to do everything in my power through interviews and social media to make it as big and to sell as many records and reach as many people as possible. I everyone who listens to rock and roll to be aware that we exist you know, and put it in terms of the main aspect of our business is performing live and in a lot of ways, it’s better than ever for us, we sell more tickets, or at least as many tickets as we ever have. So that’s the main thrust of what we do is perform live and that aspect of our little corner of the music business is going pretty good.

MI: Looking back on the history of the Gin Blossoms, are you happy with the outcome?
RW: well you know, there’s always going to be some regret, you know, you can’t help it. You look back and think, “I wish I hadn’t said that in an interview”, and, “I wish you know this is gone differently”. There’s always going to be some regret. Where it’s really special to have survived, and for the four of us, still having the four original members of the band is very difficult to achieve. After 30 years, it’s a special thing to be in a rock band that has cut its way into the grand scheme of things. We’re more like a mid-level band, just like those guys in that movie, “Almost Famous”. It’s great to have a career and to have a catalog of music that people have connected with. We’re at the beginning of our third act, and suddenly… you got a little bit more pull and power than we had in our second act. It’s feeling pretty good.

MI: When talking to your fans, what really makes you happy you’re in the industry?
RW: It makes you happy and warms your heart when you hear from the old memories. Make out stories are my favorite. Like, “I was making out with her/him for the first time… I had sex with my ex-wife”’ you know, how your song was on the radio. I love that. I love that it’s about connecting with people. So, whenever people do, I always listen intently when someone wants to tell me about the first time they heard us or why they still care about our band and what we mean to them. I do this because my heroes were the way you played guitar in your bedroom and then then you hear it on an elevator one day and then next thing you know you’re in your 50s. You’re in your 50s, and people are bringing their kids and they’re singing along with it. It’s a great achievement. It’s not as important as being a great writer or some sort of social leader or a scientist or anything, but connecting with people and being a part of their lives is really special.

MI: Are there any unsigned that you want to mention
RW: Yeah, well I don’t know if they’re unsigned or they’re just Indie, but one of my favorite groups is called punchline. We’re going to be doing a couple of shows with them. They’re all in their 30s now, but I first met them when they were 22 years old. Their manager was a friend of mine. He called me said, ”these kids are great, but they’re kind of fucked-up. They need to be around a veteran and they need to be around, and see a little bit of your experiences”. So I’ve been friends with them for a long time. I think they’re fantastic.

Let me tell you a little bit about the Love, Hope, Strength Foundation. This is a charity that supports people who are battling cancer. So we do things like find bone marrow donors. We built the only children’s oncology center in Eastern Africa and we fund the cancer center in Kathmandu Nepal. We do this through these hikes where we raise money, going on these hikes, and there’s a lot of musicians involved. I’ve been to the summit of Kilimanjaro twice, I got to sing with Glenn Tilbrook of The Squeeze at 18,000 feet. The charity was founded by Mike Peters, the singer of The Alarm, who is a three-time leukemia Survivor. So, the charity is his baby and that when he was in the hospital I guess, there was some mountain where he lives in Wales. I don’t know if they will have real mountains in Wales, but apparently there was some tall mound of dirt or something of his hospital. He thought, “If I ever get out of here, I’m going to climb that thing”.

And that’s where it started. So he recruited a bunch of other musicians to go on these hikes with him. We sort of auction off the opportunity to go along with us. People who sign up for these things, have to raise a certain amount of money for the charity. This summer, we’re going to have a Love, Hope, Strength concert, and in the fall I’m participating in Rock The Canyons 2018. This is so great. I’ve been to Nepal and Africa with these guys, and this year they’re going to the American southwest, my home, so we’re going to climb over and overnight hikes in the Grand Canyon, Zion and also in Bryce. Then we do a concert in Las Vegas. Through this will raise money for the charity and will continue to support the programs that we’ve been funding over these years. I’ve been a part of the organization now for 9 years. The first for me was in 2009 when I did Kilimanjaro for the first time, and the last one I did was in 2015. We climbed Kilimanjaro for the second time.

It seems like a transforming experience to do something like that. It’s great to have this amazing adventure, and for it to mean something more than just a rich guy vacation or something like that. To accomplish something like raising money for people who are dealing with cancer means a lot and then to have these interactions with other musicians that I admire. It’s been a very, very, rewarding experience to work with Love, Hope, Strength, and every time I’ve done one of these hikes, I go home and I’m like, “Oh my God look at my beautiful countertops. Look at this clean water just coming right out of the tap”. I just do it. It really centers you and humbles and gives you a sense of perspective. It’s so rewarding on so many levels.

LoveHopeStrength.Org. Anyone who wants to volunteer we got more shows and you know this region of the country so if any of your readers are interested in volunteering to work at the Love, Hope, Strength Booth they can visit LoveHopeStrength.Org and somewhere in there you can find volunteer at a Gin Blossoms concert

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